Arizona’s new immigration law has sparked widespread debate throughout the country. As the frontline for the traffic of immigrants from Latin America, the four states that border Mexico – California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – face a set of issues that the rest of the Cotton Belt simply doesn’t encounter.
The movement of illegal immigrants over the border and across cotton farms is taking a physical and financial toll on farms in areas such as Yuma, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas.
Jim Ed Miller, a cotton producer in Fort Hancock, Texas, says that illegals destroy water pipelines, fencing and freshly irrigated fields as they move across his farm. He says he is tired of fishing the vehicles out of his concrete-lined ditches.
“The Border Patrol needs to be on the Rio Grande (border),” Miller says, “instead of just running around on our roads.”
Miller believes that the authorities “need to turn off the tap at the border, stopping the illegal traffic before it gets into the United States.”
According to Miller, the Border Patrol has no authority to regulate the flow of illegals at the border because Congress will not allow such action.
Serious Problems Exist
While Arizona’s law has little or no bearing on the Border Patrol, it does allow local law enforcement to arrest undocumented foreign nationals if they are in the act of breaking an existing law.
The controversial law has the support of many in agriculture. However, many are afraid that it will scare viable workers from eventually joining the Arizona workforce.
The Arizona Cotton Growers Association has no official policy on Arizona’s new law, but the association has worked for years to obtain a manageable guest worker program.
Dan Thelander, the association’s president, says that immigration reform is necessary.
“True immigration reform that includes a temporary guest worker program with some way to deal with the people who are here now is needed,” he says.
The drug trade and human smuggling are also big issues that need to be addressed. They are an integral part of the illegal immigration process in the West. Truckloads of foreign nationals and drugs are often transported though farmland, sometimes with tragic results.
Hundreds of Mexican nationals die each year in the harsh border terrain or at the hand of human smugglers. David Miguel, a ranger with the Tohono O’odham Nation, which sits on the Arizona/Mexican border, says that his group finds up to four bodies a week in the desert.
With the Administration continuing to focus on employer violation enforcement and stepped up I-9 monitoring, Western cotton producers are looking to impact effective immigration laws and issues particular to their own farming operation.
Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. He resides in Maricopa, Ariz.